The Internet Told Me How to Make This Game

Recently, I put up a series of polls on Twitter asking for the public to pick elements of a game I would make up the rules for. Instead of asking for specifics, each poll adds a requirement to the final game without alluding to implementation. The votes are in and the game I will make will:

  • The primary play surface of the game will be a hexagonal grid
  • Each player will have four pieces to move
  • There will be an additional special piece: a magic eight ball
  • The options a player has on their turn will not be random or earned — all turns will have the same options each time for each player
  • I make drinking games; in this game, players will drink based on when and what kinds of mistakes they make
  • In a turn, players advance by answering trivia questions
  • Surprise! The twist is that there will be a second board
  • Finally, you win by gaining control of the board

First, I will need to balance win-by-control with the fact that each player only has four pieces. I’m going to handle this by including a second item each player can use to indicate control: markers. Like pieces, these will signal on the board that Player A exerts dominance in this space; unlike pieces, they cannot be moved once set down. In addition, to honor the four-piece maximum limit, you can only put a marker down in spots that have a relationship to the pieces.

Second, there is only one element of chance, the eight ball, so I need to make the rules guide players toward multiple strategic options. Chance in games does this for me — some players are more risk averse and some are more risk friendly, differentiating the way I play Trouble from how my husband plays Trouble. Games with less chance, though, need the rules to plant seeds of different methods of play. Chess has no luck, but the rules dictate how each piece moves; I tend to my rooks and my husband to his bishops because the rules allow aspects of our preferred communication and control strategies to flourish.

Third, I will need to choose whether the trivia will need to either directly control action across the hexagonal grid and a second board, or control one board which controls the other. For the former, the first correct trivia question you answer might let you move a piece on the hexagonal board and every question you get right after that lets you ask the 8 ball about changing some element on the second board. For the latter, you might advance pieces on the second board, and reaching point X on that board allows other pieces to move around the hexagonal board.

I’m not quite free to start choosing rules yet, as there are some other practical requirements that come along with this game I need to lay out simply:

  • This game will need to be playable over Zoom, with more than two players. As this game was posted on Twitter, we got a message about playing online, which sounds super fun! This impacts several things, but most notably the trivia requirement; online players will either need to use questions they have from trivia games they own or look questions up online. Either way, the game must assume trivia will come in diverse formats — open ended, multiple choice, true false, Family Feud lists, categories, etc. I cannot restrict what other players bring to the game the way I can when 100% of the game is in person with me. This is a feature not a bug!
  • This means the game will have perfect information aka no secrets. The physical board will be on our dining room, but we’ll have a camera show the online players what the boards look like and what options they have. One exception: it is feasible to have a mystery envelope component, where each player writes down some relevant information or instruction¹.
  • There needs to be some theme related to trans rights 🏳️, as a Twitter user with a locked account requested this game one day possibly be used on a trans sitcom. This means some component of the game will clearly spell out support for trans people.

Let’s Make This Game

I have an established template for how to write instructions for games on my Github repo devoted to Frankenstein games, so I’ll start with roughly that structure.

We know there is one hexagonal board, which I will be taking from Top Gun Strategy Game, the only game I own with a hex grid. I’ll also be taking the markers from the game, which are pairs of hexagons that are the same size of the grid. These come in three colors, green pink and blue, which means this game will be ideally played by three people or three teams.

Now, the second board. Since I anticipate that my hex grid component is going to be difficult and strategy based, I want to balance that with something legible, clean, and unlikely to warp players into undesirable strategies. Basically, we need a game for three year olds. They’re so great! Big pieces, bright colors, clear divisions between what to do and what not to do. Games for preschoolers are, in my cursed opinion, the pinnacle of game design. So we’re going to use one.

The options in our house are:

  • Candyland (requires 1 piece per player; would cut into the 4 cap)
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos (cannot be played virtually)
  • Chutes & Ladders (requires 1 piece; one of the more boring kids games)
  • Hi Ho Cherry-O (debatable if cherries count as pieces)
  • Guess Who (cannot easily? at all? be played virtually)

To me, the clear winner is Hi Ho Cherry-O, because it also has three players, has perfect information, is controlled by a six-way spinner which can be easily replicated with a dice for remote players, and does not cut into the four pieces at work on the hexagonal ground.

Our setup now looks like this:

Hi Ho Cherry-O is pretty easy: we’ll be playing the game basically as-is. The hex grid though, doesn’t give us any clues about how we’ll be working with it. To get clues, we’ll work backwards from Hi Ho Cherry-O.

We know it’s a pretty fast game (add or remove your cherries to or from the basket based on the spinner; first to add all cherries wins that round), so we can tie a high quantity element to winning Hi Ho Cherry-O. I’m picking that every time you win HHCO, you can place a double hex market on the board. I’m also going to choose here that you can only put a marker down on spots occupied by at least one of your pieces.

So how should the pieces start the game? Again, we’ll answer this by defining what the pieces are and letting their given characteristics determine the answer to what they do on the board. Like picking which preschool game to choose, we’ll go through a list of what pieces I have and what they usually mean in games. There is nothing tying old mechanisms to current uses, but it provides connectedness and makes it easier for players of one of my games to adapt to a new game.

  • Trouble & Sorry: these typically act as pawns with no special abilities and no special consequences
  • Clue: we use these as blockers; sometimes this means only that you can’t share a space with them, but other times means you cannot pass them or enter the spaces around them
  • Trivia: pieces from real trivia games usually come with a trivia advantage, such as only having to answer 2 out of 3 correctly or moving through trivia spaces at double speed
  • Candyland: These have really only dominated Candyland-related games, as I love Candyland so much, but are larger than most pieces, so they might be useful for conveying power or control visually
  • Chutes & Ladders: outside of C&L, it plays the king in the Loch Chess Monster. Because we don’t use it much, there’s an argument for better defining how this numerically-oriented piece can assert power
  • Shot glass: You have to drink the shot to move it. It’s not very high brow, but it does fucking work

Since it’s looking more and more like I’m just accidentally reinventing drinking Hex (of John Nash fame), we’ll start with the pieces off the board. Since I’ve identified woah this is getting a little close to a game that already exists, I’m going to choose pieces to use which will push this toward the Chess end of the Chess-Go-Crap-On-A-Grid-Board spectrum.

Specifically, all pieces will start the game off the board. On any turn you get one question right, you may move any piece onto any edge of the board or move any piece on the board to any hex. The chess part of this is that we’ll use four different piece types that control spaces in different ways.

  • Trouble: each player will have two Trouble pieces, which control their square only. The make up for this by being able to move to any unoccupied hex in the same turn as they are replaced by a marker. All other pieces are returned off the board and must come back out to be in play.
  • Trivia: since this is a trivia-driven game, each player will have one trivia piece. The player can declare they would like to move that piece before the start of the turn, and the person giving the trivia must make their trivia method arbitrarily easier for that person for both the HHCO segment and the hex segment.
  • Shot glass: Shot glasses are bigger than the hexes themselves, and we’ll use this as a feature not a bug. Each player gets one which must sits on up to three spaces, and controls every hex she wholly or partially occupies. Moving the shot glass, by movement or by replacement with a market requires taking the shot — but not quite! The requirements say the drinking has to be related to a die roll, so we need to add an element of chance here, where you only drink if you roll, say, a 1 or 6, but you don’t move at all if you roll a 2–5.

Our board now looks like this:

Let’s restate everything we know about this game so far:

  • Each player begins the game with a full HHCO tree, two Trouble pieces, one trivia piece, and one shot glass, all of roughly their color
  • Since tokens are driven by HHCO wins and once you place a piece the only reason to move it is threat, we know most of the play should happen on HHCO. Therefore, we’ll need to structure turns so some correct trivia answers allow HHCO spins and a smaller proportion allow changes on the hex grid. To maximize “useful” turns, players get to declare their order of HHCO and marker turns. That is, before a turn begins, they say “my first correct answer will go to the board and every correct question after that goes to HHCO” or “my first and third correct answer will be HHCO; every other question I get right lets me move on the board”. This makes sure you are never caught with a full basket and no pieces on the board, but also aren’t forced to make board moves that have no purpose or advantage
  • To win, you need control of the board. This is where I want to introduce the game’s built in trans support: what “control” means. We’re making the flag y’all. The blue team will need to control the top and bottom of the grid, the pink team will need two stripes which touch both sides but neither bottom and do not connect in the middle, and the (green) white team needs a thick stripe through the middle unbroken by pink or blue and not touching the top or bottom. This is nice because it’s a sick visual and also introduces slightly different methods of offense and defense for each color while being mostly² equivalent.

We’ve incorporated every requirement by now except the magic eight ball. I want the board to be somewhat mutable but not constantly in flux, so I’ll add the eight ball as a method for deciding who controls contested spaces. Say you have a marker next to a space partially occupied by my shot glass. If I win HHCO, I can place half my marker in the partially occupied spot and the other half… right where your marker is. Instead of automatically giving up the spot, we’ll send it to chance: get a Most Likely or higher to “Can I take this spot?” and it’s yours — the other player must remove that market entirely.

And that is how you play Eene Meene Hexerei³!

¹ You can cheat here. I don’t cheat at games. I (assume) my husband doesn’t cheat. Most games I play are only with him, so this doesn’t come up much. But, yes, you can cheat here. Don’t. It’s rude.